David Reyes, a former cable car operator for 14 years, stands near a cable car on Hyde Street on Monday, March 25, 2019. Reyes was terminated when he was accused of stealing on the job, and a subsequent trial was declared a mistrial after a hung jury. Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner

DA drops case against cable car operator accused of stealing fares

Second cable car operator has yet to go to trial on embezzling charges

At the end of April 2017, David Reyes’ mustachioed mugshot was plastered all over television, newspapers, and the web.

His mother, who lay dying of pulmonary fibrosis in a local hospital, saw her adult son blasted Bay Area-wide as a thief.

Reyes was no career criminal — he was a cable car operator accused of pocketing fares.

But more than two years later or, as Reyes puts it, “two years and sixteen days, or seven hundred and forty-six days” later, on Thursday, May 16, the District Attorney’s Office dropped all charges against Reyes.

Prosecutors took the case to trial once, but the jury hung in early March. DA’s Office spokesperson Max Szabo said “a careful review of the evidence, and after the result after the first trial, we decided not to retry the case.”

Reyes himself is adamant: He is innocent.

“Oh my god, the monkey’s off my shoulder,” he said Friday. He blasted the effort by the District Attorney’s Office, San Francisco Police Department and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni.

“They had me under surveillance seven times, but they found nothing,” he said. “You should’ve seen the videos they had. Nothing.”

Reyes was arrested after a city-led sting operation where investigators rode cable cars undercover to bust Muni operators for pocketing cash. Subsequent to the arrest, SFMTA announced it would move toward a cashless system for its cable cars.

The day of his arrest, Reyes recalled nearly two dozen police appearing to arrest him at the cable car barn on Mason Street.

While he maintains his innocence, the sting conducted by city officials also led to the arrest of Albert Williams, He was allegedly seen pocketing roughly $919, prosecutors said.

Williams had $32,000 in cash stashed in a safe and multiple receipts for luxury items, which officials argue shows he lived well beyond the means of a Muni salary. Williams’ case has yet to go to trial, but he will “answer to all counts,” according to the DA’s Office.

In Reyes’ case, however, his public defender, Max Breecker, said that after the money he took home for change was accounted for (operators using their own cash for change was a common practice, previously), the money he ended up taking from Muni was minimal. “When the dust settled, the DA said maybe he pocketed 100 and something dollars over five days, roughly,” Breecker previously told the Examiner.

Szabo said, “we would dispute that notion,” or else they would never have tried the case in the first place. “And when we’re talking about public money, we’re going to take those cases very seriously.”

While Reyes has walked free, he lost his dream job as a cable car operator. The San Francisco native and Mission High School alum now works as a janitor to pay his bills. His mother died in November 2017, before her son’s name was cleared.

“The cable car was one thing that I loved,” Reyes said.

Still, he’s grateful, he said. He has his freedom.


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